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News >  Crime/Public Safety

Attorneys give opening statements in trial of man accused of killing ex-wife when she came to pick up kids

UPDATED: Wed., Feb. 23, 2022

Nathan Beal, convicted of killing his ex-wife in August 2020, talks with his attorney Feb. 23 in Spokane Superior Court on the first day of his murder trial.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
Nathan Beal, convicted of killing his ex-wife in August 2020, talks with his attorney Feb. 23 in Spokane Superior Court on the first day of his murder trial. (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

A Spokane man hated his ex-wife and decided to kill her when she came to pick up their children in the summer of 2020, prosecutors said Wednesday during their opening statement of his murder trial.

Mary Schaffer was found dead in her rental car in Browne’s Addition in August 2020.

Her ex-husband, Nathan Beal, 37, is charged with premeditated murder for the shooting.

Prosecutors said Beal shot and killed Schaffer in front of his apartment building when she came to pick up their two young children. The couple had been separated for years and eventually divorced, said Deputy Prosecutor Jonathan Degen.

Schaffer had been texting her longtime boyfriend, Justin Sharp, throughout her trip to Spokane as a safety measure, Degen said.

“He was concerned because the defendant hated Mary (Schaffer),” Degen said.

Beal was angry that Schaffer had moved to Oregon with their children, Degen said.

When Schaffer “suddenly stopped” texting Sharp, he grew worried and called police to do a welfare check, Degen said.

At the same time, Beal had gone out to get mochas for him and the kids, his daughter will testify, Degen said. He was gone longer than normal and, when Beal returned home, he kept peeking out his apartment window, Degen said.

Not long after, a bystander called 911 after seeing a woman slumped over in a car across the street from Beal’s apartment. Officers arrived to find the woman dead with a gunshot wound to her head, Degen said.

Due to Sharp’s welfare check request, officers on scene quickly identified the woman as Schaffer.

Beal was arrested a short time later, and the children were located safe in his apartment. Investigators found a handgun in a backpack in Beal’s closet. That gun was later found to be a ballistic match to the bullet that killed Schaffer, Degen said.

Beal’s attorney, Stephanie Cady with the Council for Defense, acknowledged prosecutors would call numerous witnesses and present lots of evidence, but that they differ on what they think that evidence will show.

Cady said the prosecutor’s ballistic expert will admit they used “subjective means” to test the rounds.

She said Beal’s children were also looking out the window for their mother.

Cady encouraged the jury to listen for what they don’t hear.

“I would ask you to pay very close attention to the things that are missing here,” Cady said.

After opening statements, Deputy Prosecutor Dale Nagy called Sharp to the stand.

Sharp, a substance abuse counselor, began dating Schaffer about five years before her death when they were both living in Orville, he said. At that time, Schaffer was the primary caregiver to her two children while Beal lived in Seattle, he said.

While the couple had separated, they weren’t officially divorced. After the divorce was finalized and with permission from a judge, Sharp and Schaffer moved to Oregon, he said.

Beal was “extremely bitter” about the move, Sharp said.

In August 2019, when Sharp and Schaffer came to pick up the kids in Spokane, the exchange was very difficult, he said.

Beal insisted on speaking to Schaffer alone, but she was uncomfortable with that and she refused, Sharp said.

“He threw a tantrum and left and said good luck getting your kids back,” Sharp said.

When asked by Cady why he was part of the conversation, Sharp said he stayed at Schaffer’s request.

“If she is concerned with her safety, then I’m going to stay present,” Sharp said.

The couple then went to Beal’s apartment, hoping to pick up the children, but Beal didn’t answer the door, Sharp said.

Eventually, they called police, who intervened, he said.

Schaffer was “extremely relieved” to get the kids back, but also was concerned for her safety, Sharp said.

“She was always concerned for her safety where Mr. Beal was involved,” Sharp said.

In 2020, Schaffer went alone to pick up the children and planned to drive them back to Oregon in her rental car. She had been texting Sharp frequent updates, he said.

Sharp read their final texts aloud in court between sniffles as he wiped away tears.

In her last text, Schaffer said she had parked across from Beal’s apartment building .

After numerous attempts to contact Schaffer and her young daughter, Sharp called police.

Beal’s trial is set to resume Thursday morning and continue into next week.

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